New Zealand to cast out its official wizard

AFP
New Zealand is losing its official wizard. Nearly 40 years after the city of Christchurch begged their wizard to stay, the council has told the charismatic sorcerer he has to go.
AFP

New Zealand is losing its official wizard. Nearly 40 years after the city of Christchurch begged their wizard to stay, the council has told the charismatic sorcerer he has to go.

The 88-year-old wizard, also known as Ian Brackenbury Channell, has been a popular tourist attraction for more than three decades, addressing crowds in the city center, with his flowing beard, straggly hair and wearing a long, black robe and pointy hat.

Nothing was off-limits for the modern-day Merlin, from castigating politicians to successfully leading a campaign to stop "an attack on the soul of the city" when the red public phone booths were to be repainted blue.

He has been in demand casting spells to influence the outcome of events such as crucial rugby matches and being transported to Australia to perform a rain dance.

"It is a difficult decision to end this contract," the Christchurch City Council assistant chief executive Lynn McClelland said.

"The council is grateful for the valuable and special contribution The Wizard made to our city's cultural life, and he will forever be a part of our history."

But McClelland said wizardry no longer fits the "promotional landscape" of the South Island's largest city, and new programs "will increasingly reflect our diverse communities and showcase a vibrant, diverse, modern city."

British-born Channell, a former airman with the Royal Air Force, and with a double honors degree in psychology and sociology, arrived in Christchurch in 1974.

The council's first reaction when he began his public speaking was to try to have him arrested, but he proved so popular that 10 years later the council campaigned for him to stay.

"This was a welcome change of attitude by the city council after years of ill-concealed hostility," Channell said.

The council appointed him "Wizard of Christchurch," the New Zealand Art Gallery Directors Association made him "an authentic living work of art," and in 1990, then-Prime minister Mike Moore named him the official "Wizard of New Zealand."


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